8 Reasons to See an ENT

September 21, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Mina Le, M.D. contributes to topics such as Otolaryngology.

If you find yourself dealing with frequent nosebleeds, vertigo or ringing in the ears, you may need to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. ENT specialists, or otolaryngologists, are surgeons who care for patients with conditions affecting the ear, nose, mouth, throat, head, face and neck, outside of the brain, eyes and spine,” says Mina Le, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Mountainside Medical Group.

Among the wide-ranging conditions treated by ENT doctors, here are eight of the most common:

  1. Earwax. Condensed earwax, also known as cerumen impaction, can diminish your hearing and make you feel like your ear is plugged. Usually, your earwax acts as a natural cleanser of dust, dirt, and bacteria. As Dr. Le puts it, “Ears are designed to clean themselves.” However, if people try to “clean” their ears using cotton swabs or the tip of a paperclip, for example, they can cause chronic inflammation and itching, earwax impaction and even damage to the eardrum. To remove impacted earwax, ENTs may use a suction or a curved metal instrument called a curette, usually while looking in your ear with a microscope.
  1. Rhinosinusitis or Rhinitis. People often experience rhinosinusitis and rhinitis—inflammation of the lining of the sinuses or the nose—at the same time. Symptoms include nasal congestion, sinus pressure and runny nose. These conditions are usually triggered by the environment, whether it is seasonal grasses, tree pollen or exposure to dust, mold or pollution. Dr. Le recommends trying to address the environmental factor causing the inflammation while relieving the symptoms using nasal irrigation, nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines. Other treatments include nasal steroid sprays and anti-inflammatory medications.
  1. Acid Reflux. Because acid reflux can show up as a chronic sore throat or cough, intermittent trouble swallowing or hoarseness of voice, people are often referred to an otolaryngologist or seek one out. This type of acid reflux is often called “silent” reflux because the classic symptom of burning indigestion is not felt. However, stomach acid is traveling up to the throat, usually at night when people are lying down. Dr. Le uses a scope to examine the throat for redness and swelling between the larynx and esophagus to determine if acid reflux is causing chronic irritation. Treatment includes dietary changes, such as avoiding coffee and spicy foods; raising the head of the bed to keep stomach acid from coming into the throat; and antacids.
  1. Thyroid Disease. Most people see endocrinologists for overactive or underactive thyroid or for thyroid nodules but may be referred to an ENT specialist if thyroid surgery is contemplated. Situations where surgery may be desired include an overactive thyroid that isn’t responding to medication; thyroid enlargements compressing the throat, making it hard to breath or swallow; and nodules that are suspected to be cancerous based on biopsy.
  1. Vertigo. There are many disorders that could be responsible for feeling like you, or your environment, are spinning. Once a scan has ruled out stroke or tumor, vertigo is likely caused by one of three things: benign paroxysmal positioned vertigo, which is a condition where the crystals in the inner ear are out of place, and which is corrected by a positional maneuver; vestibular neuritis, which is a viral inflammation affecting a nerve from the inner ear, and which revolves on its own; or migraine, which can cause recurrent vertigo without the classic headache, which can be managed by identifying and modifying triggers.
  1. Tinnitus. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is often a symptom of hearing loss, says Dr. Le, so the two frequently go hand-in-hand. Very often people will see her for tinnitus, and a hearing test will show hearing loss even if the person hasn’t noticed any loss of hearing. Tinnitus appears to be a sound your brain invents to make up for loss of objective sound input. It is not curable, but using music or white noise, especially at night, provides sound the brain can focus on to block out the ringing. Hearing aids may also help simply because they restore the sound that was lacking before.
  1. Nosebleeds. Nosebleeds usually occur in dry environmental conditions, but they can also result from excessive nose blowing or nose picking, high blood pressure or medications such as blood thinners. A doctor can treat severe nosebleeds by packing the nose with a sponge or inflatable balloon, while recurrent small-volume nosebleeds can be prevented by the use of nasal saline and a humidifier.
  1. Hoarseness. Hoarseness or fluctuating vocal quality can be caused by chronic irritation of acid reflux, smoking or by growths on the vocal cords, such as polyps, cysts or nodules. Cancer is also a possibility. Benign and malignant growths frequently require surgical removal.

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